- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2007

How are we going suffer the humility of Marion Barry now that he will be immortalized in paraffin into perpetuity?

Ever the modest man, the District’s Mayor for Life was chosen this week to be part of the latest Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, opening downtown this fall.

“First, I”m deeply honored to the people of Washington for honoring me with [a statue] that will live on long after I”m gone,” Mr. Barry said yesterday. “Second, it shows that hard work and helping people pays off. Third, the people of Washington voted for me over a lot of outstanding people, which makes me more outstanding.”

Lest we forget, he also is the People”s Prodigal Prince. You may recall that when he was mentioned as a candidate, I became a Barry Booster explicitly for this tourist bonanza.

Good bet: Only Marion Barry, beloved and berated, could best Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington and the other “Top 10 Wish List” contenders in a public poll of 600 people taken by museum staffers on the streets of the former “Chocolate City.”

We need more local flavor amid the national tourist attractions and franchises popping up all over the place. So it is no wonder that the District’s own quintessential lightning rod won by “an overwhelming landslide” with Washingtonians who view him as a hometown hero, for better or worse.

In March, when I asked if past deeds precluded a personality”s inclusion in the lineup, Janine DiGioacchino, the museum”s general manager, told me that “some of the most scandal-ridden [figures in other Tussaud’s] are the best-loved.” Hold that thought. Sorry for you finger-pointing folks, cracking jokes about pipes and prison stripes. You won”t see Mr. Barry caught on tape with the woman who “set me up” in the new museum”s last-minute addition, “the scandal section” of the Spirit of Washington Room.

Contrary to a now-corrected local television story, museum officials never discussed Mr. Barry“s placement. And they surely never got around to considering whether to cement Mr. Barry“s infamous Vista Hotel drug sting image in paraffin, as some have said in jest.

“You can find cynics and naysayers everywhere, but that”s their problem,” Mr. Barry said. He scoffed at the idea that some voters picked him for less flattering reasons, which he characterized as “insignificant whatever they may be.” Repeatedly, Mr. Barry and Andre Johnson, his communications director, stressed that the selection was based on the desire of those who chose to commemorate the numerous good deeds of the four-term mayor, three-term D.C. Council member now representing Ward 8, D.C. Board of Education member, and dashiki-wearing leader of Pride Inc., and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

In his heyday, he embodied the “power to the people” creed.

Madame Tussaud”s marketing mavens boast that their newest location, housing 50 mannequins in the old Woodies” building on F Street Northwest, will be “an interactive, full sensory experience,” where visitors “will be able to touch, see and hear major historical events and celebrities in a way unlike any other Washington, D.C., attraction” What a hoot. Who else but the cat with endless political lives and peccadilloes is capable of presenting a “full sensory experience” of historic proportions?

The possibilities for the famed museum”s interactive activities with Hizzoner are eternal. Dare I suggest, for his detractors, that the best backdrop for the statue might be a courthouse instead of a city hall? But no matter how he is posed, I wouldn”t trust even a wax replica of the world”s worst driver to be depicted anywhere near a motor vehicle.

Rosemary Preta, director of marketing of Madame Tussaud’s, said there will definitely be a “scandal section” in the D.C. location. So far, the only two figures destined for this dubious distinction are former Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton, the former for Watergate and potential impeachment, the latter for Interngate and impeachment.

Still, Ms. Petra said, although some “made an assumption” that Mr. Barry“s figure would stand among the scandalous, no such discussion took place. In fact, Mr. Barry“s “celebrity sitting” — at which the artist and the subject discuss clothing, setting and posing — “hadn”t occurred yet.” Room assignments are not made before this creative point in the process, she added.

After the premature news report, “we made a decision earlier than we normally would,” Ms. Petra said. She added that Ms. DiGioacchino and Mr. Barry “mutually agreed” that his likeness will be assigned to the larger Spirit of Washington Room. There he will be joined with the likenesses of civil rights leaders Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, as well as George Washington.

An “excited and deeply humbled” Mr. Barry, now 71, said that “this honor really speaks to the tremendous amount of work that went into rebuilding the city of Washington and supporting the wonderful people of the District of Columbia. Because it is with their acknowledgment and appreciation that I received the most votes for this life-defining distinction.”

Famous or infamous, as Marion Barry said, “I”ll be among the greats of the world.” Now, do you want to bet whether he will be sporting a dashiki, an Afro, or his Anwar Amal kente cloth costume?

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